Accountability in J&K
7 January 2000
Instances of human rights violations have lessened in the Kashmir valley, but not the severity. When I was there recently, I came to know about the gruesome killing of Mohammed Ashraf Bazaz, a local bank manager, and his wife. I have not yet seen the news in the press. The couple was traveling by an auto-rickshaw through the main bazaar. They were stopped at a chowk and shot dead. Local people allege that one BSF man tried to `misbehave' with his wife. The husband had protested against it. The same BSF man reportedly shot them dead. The auto-rickshaw driver escaped with injuries. The BSF version is firing. When I, along with human rights activists, met the BSF chief in Srinagar, he said he was not aware of the allegation. It was the talk of the town. His ignorance sounded strange. However, on our complaint, he said he would look into it. I am sure he will. But since his own man is involved, the BSF chief would do well to associate the State Human Rights Commission so that the inquiry becomes more credible.
The BSF, as such, is not so much criticised as it was year and a half ago when I was there last. Then the BSF man was the ugly Indian. The brunt of the attack this time was on the Special Operation Group (SOG), comprising the Jammu and Kashmir police. People talk about the `excess' they have committed. Another organisation, equally blamed, is the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) which most Kashmiris call Rashtriya Sangh. The RR is under the army. It has been specially set up to deal with civil commotion.
It looks to me as if there is no accountability. Both organisations seem to be a law unto themselves. Since the administration in Jammu and Kashmir is so feeble and so remote, the worst of crimes can be committed with impunity. True, the people's alienation has led to exaggerations the same story is heard over and over again from different organisations and important individuals. No doubt, some violations of human rights have taken place. Many sins are being committed in the name of curbing insurgency.
In numerous cases, the courts are helpless because their orders are not respected. The State Bar Association has filed a writ petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that the orders issued by it or by the subordinate courts "are taken with impunity by administration where life and liberty of people is involved". The Bar Association said "court orders are contemptuously treated which not only resulted in undermining the dignity and supremacy of the courts in Jammu and Kashmir. The supremacy of law, as envisaged under the democratic fabric in the Indian Union, is jeopardised".
The authorities put the blame on the militancy, which has undoubtedly increased since the advent of General Musharraf's military rule in Islamabad. Nearly 80 percent of the militants are Pakistanis. The rest, Afghans, Sudanese and others, are purely mercenaries. A few among them have been coaxed into militancy in the name of jehad but it if primarily money that keeps them in the valley, not the invocation of Islam. Nonetheless, it is true that they get shelter from the local population and some Kashmiris act as their guides.
General Musharraf's recent statement that there will be no reduction of forces on the Pakistan side of the Line of Control (LoC) is ominous. It is apparent that he wants to sustain tension. More and more militants will come from across the border. At present, the entire area is covered with snow and the entire area is like a white sheet. But once the weather warms up, Pakistan will strike the fire of militancy with all its vigor. Already there are threats by some fundamentalists in Pakistan that Kargil will be recreated at many places. The confrontation between the militants and the security forces will increase. Many innocent people will get hurt or killed in the process, inevitably resulting in violations of human rights!
To meet the challenge of the militants will be quite a drain on India. The defence of the Siachen Glacier is said to cost Rs. 7 crores a day, and Kargil around Rs. 9 crores a day; that is, Rs. 15 crores to Rs. 16 crores daily. New Delhi has no option except to bear the burden because there is no likelihood of early settlement. The talks between India and Pakistan could have improved the atmosphere but no worthwhile dialogue is possible when Pakistan insists on fueling militancy by sending its men and giving training and arms to the youth it can force or purchase in the valley.
However, there are certain steps which New Delhi can take to mend things in the State. One of them is to insist that the Farooq Abdullah Government improve the administration. This is not a new demand. So many State leaders and outsiders have asked for it. But the Center seems helpless. Corruption is only part of the problem in Kashmir. What one finds is that there is no system. It is all adhoc depending on the whims of two or three bureaucrats, if not the Chief Minister. There is no development worth the name, although the Center has allocated a substantial amount in the past five years. Educated youth are at a loose end and there is little attention paid to their needs, material or psychological.
It is a sad story, but the fact remains that democracy and administration, as practiced in the rest of India, is absent in Jammu and Kashmir. It is not a new thing. New Delhi has always decided who will rule the State. People had to accept the men imposed on them. The situation has aggravated over the years. Elections held so far, except the one in 1977, suggest that the State has not been allowed to have free and fair polls like the rest of the country. The 1999 Lok Sabha election has been the biggest violation of human rights. Exercising choice in electing a candidate is a fundamental right of the voter. But he has been denied it, election after election. When some young men went to Pakistan in 1987 for getting training and arms it was because they had lost faith in the ballot box.
True, the Kashmiris have generally realised that the bullet is no solution. But they are caught in a vicious circle from which they find no escape. A free and fair election may still retrieve the situation but polling will have to be supervised by human rights activists and civil liberty groups in the country. The Hurriyat's demand for U.N. supervision cannot be accepted by a sovereign country. The vehemence with which they have boycotted elections and have pressured people not to vote for any candidate reflects a sort of nervousness. They saw to it that the third group with candidates like Mufti Mohammed Syed, his daughter, Ms. Mehbooba Mufti, and Mr. Muzafar Ali Beg, were defeated so that Dr. Farooq Abdullah's sullied National Conference remained the only alternative.
A team of human rights activists, which visited Srinagar in the first week of December, has confirmed that the conditions obtaining in the valley are not satisfactory. In its report, it has said: "People are far more alienated today than they were one and a half years ago. There is growing discontent with performance of the popular Government in the State. As the present system does not provide an adequate democratic outlet to this discontent, it leads to disillusionment with the system itself. The failure of the Election Commission to prevent electoral malpractices and coercive voting for the ruling party discredited the election system. The violent boycott campaign of the secessionist-militant forces and the confusion in the democratic opposition parties too distorted the electoral verdict in favor of the ruling party. The lowest-ever polling thus was a vote of no-confidence not only against the ruling party but also against all parties, elections and the democratic system."